Treatment for flu possible as scientists find healing protein

Treatment for flu possible as scientists find healing protein

A brain protein which boosts the healing power of sleep to fight off flu has been found by scientists. Researchers at Washington State University are hopeful that the discovery could finally lead to an effective treatment for the disease which until now has eluded experts.

Flu vaccines currently only work for half of strains and once contracted, doctors can only recommend rest, keeping warm and anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to help lower high temperatures and relieve aches.

Serious conditions are sometimes treated with anti-virals, like Tamiflu, but they only reduce the length of the illness by one day and relieve some of the symptoms.

Now scientists have discovered that the protein AcPb promotes healing from flu during sleep. They believe that a nasal spray could be created which stimulates the production of the protein so that the body could fight the virus more quickly. Sufferers would simply ‘sleep off’ their illness.

"Influenza is a lung disease, and deaths probably occur from fluid building up in the lungs,” said Professor James Krueger of Washington State University.

“But now, we see that without AcPb in the brain, the virus is even more deadly.

“We knew that the virus replicated in the lungs. But we've discovered it also reaches parts of the brain - causing an inflammatory reaction. That reaction induces the increased sleep response that helps the body overcome an infection."

Previous research has shown that sleep is critical for fighting off viral infections. It is thought that the protein encourages sufferers to spend more time sleeping during an illness.

In the study, mice who lacked the gene for AcPb protein slept less after being infected with influenza virus. They also became chilled, grew sluggish, lost their normal circadian rhythms and ultimately died in higher numbers than the mice who slept longer.

"This finding expands our knowledge of the molecular pathway involved in recovery from influenza," added Professor Krueger.

The protein will also fight the H1N1 bird flu strain which swept across the world in the 2009 pandemic.The research was published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

By Sarah Knapton,

The Telegraph, Monday 12 Jannuary 2015

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